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World Languages: The words "Mama and Papa"


BWL
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It seems that a lot of languages all over the world use a form of "Ma" and "Pa" to mean "mother" and "father" respectively. There can be variations "Ma, mama, na, nana" and "Pa, papa, fa, ba, baba" etc but generally the words for "mother" contains the letters "M" or "N" while the word for "father" contains the letters "P" or "B" or "F". This is a generalization that can be observed in languages all over the world (there are some notable exceptions).

What is the word for "mother" and "father" in your native languages? Does the M/N rule for "mother / mommy / mama" and the P/B/F rule for "father /dad / daddy" occur in your language?

I'll give some examples from the languages I know:

English: Mother / Father

Malay: Emak / Bapa

Mandarin Chinese : Mama (妈妈) or Muqin (母亲) / Baba (爸爸) or Fuqin (父亲)

Hindi: Mata or Maa or Mataji /  Pita or Baap or Babuji

Tamil: Amma / Appa

French: Mère / Père

German: Mutter / Vater

Spanish: Madre / Padre

Italian: Madre / Padre

Portuguese: Mãe / Pai

Swedish: Mor / Far

Turkish: Anne / Baba

Greek: Mitera / Pateras

Arabic: Umm / Ab

Burmese: Ame / Aphe

Tagalog: Ina or Nanay / Ama or Tatay

Japanese: Haha or Okaasan / Chichi or Otoosan

Notice a trend here? Compare this list with your own native languages.

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In Polish it's "mama" and "tata". I can see it's quite similar to Tagalog, of all things  :amazed:

I thought that the word "papa" is not present in Polish, but then I remembered the old-fashioned, affectionate term "papcio", so I guess that'd count.

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Yes that is interesting! Actually Tagalog speakers use two sets of words : tatay for father and nanay for mother (this is is equivalent to "dad" and "mom" and is more casual) OR ama for father and ina for mother. Ama and Ina are more formal. In fact the word "Ama" is used in the Filipino Catholic "Our Father" prayer.

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In Swiss German we say Mammi (Mother) and Pappi (Father), at least in my dialect (swiss-german, region of Bern).

In some other regions in Switzerland they might say something like Mueti (Mother) and Vati (Father).

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It's so fascinating how similar the words are across languages and cultures.

There are some variations in American English as well.  Mother / Father are rather formal. 

Informal variations in America:

Mom, Mommy, Mama

Dad, Daddy and, less often Papa.

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In Bulgaria things are most similar to what Czarownica explained.

Mother is "maika" in Bulgarian and father is "bashta". The equivalent of mommy is once again "mama" here and of daddy - "tatko"

I guess it all kind of follows your rule :)

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One of the most interesting things is that even languages that are very far apart and are not grammatically related at all have very similar words for mother / father.

There are some linguists who believe that all languages descend from one common ancestor spoken thousands and thousands of years ago, most likely somewhere in Africa. Again this is just a theory but there quite a lot of people who believe in the existence of Nostratic, as this supposed world proto language is called.

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  • 2 months later...

Yes that is interesting! Actually Tagalog speakers use two sets of words : tatay for father and nanay for mother (this is is equivalent to "dad" and "mom" and is more casual) OR ama for father and ina for mother. Ama and Ina are more formal. In fact the word "Ama" is used in the Filipino Catholic "Our Father" prayer.

You seem to be quite well-versed in Tagalog. Over here, we also use ""Mama" and "Papa" to refer to our parents, but I prefer to use "Mommy" and "Daddy".

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In Swahili:

Mama  - reference to a mother.

Baba - reference to a father which is rather close to "papa."

Such similarities indicate that at in the distant past the people of the world interacted at almost the same level we do now, [inter-connected by the net].

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I don't call my mom "mama" and my dad "papa". I think children usually call their parents that though because it sounds cute. I normally call my mom "mom" and my dad "dad", but I sometimes just call them "mama" and "baba" in Chinese. Interesting post.

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That is indeed a very interesting fact you came up with. As you already mentioned, the words for mother and father are mutter and vater in German, but you have to diversify the use, you call your mother mama and your father papa, but you wouldn't call someone else parents like that. If you don't know the person you stick to mutter and vater.

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Obviously a lot of the similarities stem from having a common root word, like in the case of the Latin "pater" and "mater" influencing all Romance languages, and even other non-Romance languages where Latin was introduced during the process of romanization or christianization. Other, more weird similarites are more often than not a happy coincidence.

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In my native tongue the word for mother and father are mama and papa or dada respectively.For every other language that I have heard, if the same words aren't used then it is very close.Most times it's just a letter that is added on or taken off that makes the difference. I guess we could go ahead and call them the universal words.

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Yes that is interesting! Actually Tagalog speakers use two sets of words : tatay for father and nanay for mother (this is is equivalent to "dad" and "mom" and is more casual) OR ama for father and ina for mother. Ama and Ina are more formal. In fact the word "Ama" is used in the Filipino Catholic "Our Father" prayer.

This is quite interesting information. In Jamaica it is mamma and dadda...the fact is that universally they sound alike  :laugh:

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